In a gesture simple, yet powerful, Bishop Suffragan Charles L. Longest of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland last night relinquished his crozier, the shepherd's staff that is a symbol of the authority of his office.
At his farewell Eucharist at the Church of the Redeemer in Homeland, marking his retirement after 38 years of priesthood, Longest handed the crozier to Robert W. Ihloff, bishop of Maryland.
"Robert, bishop of Maryland, on this eighth anniversary of my consecration to the episcopate, I place this crozier in your hand," Longest said. "In so doing, I relinquish the authority and responsibilities of the Office of Bishop Suffragan of Maryland."
Ihloff, placing his hand over Longest's hand on the crozier, accepted the crozier "on behalf of a grateful diocese and with a bittersweet sadness."
The bishops embraced as the congregation broke into sustained applause.
Longest has served as the suffragan, or assistant bishop, since 1989. After the retirement of Bishop A. Theodore Eastman in January 1994, he was in charge of Maryland's Episcopal Diocese until Ihloff was consecrated in October 1995.
Longest is known for his affable manner, down-to-earth style and wry sense of humor.
"He's a very different kind of a person. He does not take himself too seriously," said David K. Leighton, retired bishop of Maryland. "He's a very loving, kind, considerate person who has a charming sense of humor. There's nothing stuffy about him or nothing put on. It's real and genuine."
Longest, 64, was born in Catonsville and attended Catonsville High School. After high school he worked for Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. of Maryland, where he became a cable splicer. But he left after he was offered two scholarships to play lacrosse at the University of Maryland, where he earned three varsity letters and played on the 1955 national championship team. He was named to the 1955 All Star Team of the South.
Longest was baptized in the Episcopal Church at age 20 and met his future wife, Barbara, at St. Timothy's Episcopal Church in Catonsville. After they married in 1956, Longest switched his calling from civil engineering to the priesthood. After his ordination in 1960, he served in parishes in Essex, Ten Hills and Woodlawn before becoming rector in 1973 of Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Cumberland. He left when he was elected suffragan in 1989.
Longest cherished his days on the lacrosse field and has carried a reminder of it as a bishop: A friend and fellow priest fashioned a crozier for him out of a lacrosse stick.
Longest liked to take his lacrosse-stick crozier when he met with young people, who would note that it wasn't the state-of-the-art STX Inc. model used by today's players.
"I usually get the comment, 'Bishop, that's an old stick,' " he said in an interview before last night's service. "And I reply, 'Yes, I'm an old lacrosse player.' "
Longest said he won't just be playing golf. The diocese $l purchased a home on Stricker Street in Sandtown-Winchester, which he and his wife will renovate with Habitat for Humanity.
"The diocese could not have honored us in any finer fashion than doing that," he said.
He will look for other opportunities to serve the church.
"I'm so happy to be able to say, because I think it and I feel it and I believe it, that I'm going out of this office on a very high note," Longest said. "I don't feel burned out at all and I'm looking forward to discovering in the months ahead what God has in store in the world of ministry for Barbara and me in the years to come."
Pub Date: 10/15/97